Top Star Revolution

Chapter 8: Ex-Friends and Sweethearts

Somehow, along the way from their seats to the backstage area, Masato and Ren had gotten detained. As their colleagues raced down the hallway, searching for their friends, they hoped beyond hope that the two hadn't managed to spark anything yet. Unfortunately, that wasn't quite the case.

At the end of the hall, they found Ren pressed against the wall, his blonde hair in a tangled mess, and Masato's hands at his throat. Ren had managed to capture his former best friend's wrists, and was holding him back as best he could, but the look in Masa's eyes was absolutely murderous. That said, Ren himself didn't look too happy to be there either. Slowly, he forced Masato back. They stood there, frozen in mid-grapple, their strength surprisingly even.

Syo, Tokiya, Kanna, and Reiji got there first, but Syo kept Kanna from interfering, just until they found out what was happening. He wasn't sure this was just any old fistfight. Ren and Masa had never physically assaulted one another to his knowledge, so there had to be something very wrong here. Syo, Kanna, and Reiji all looked to Tokiya, wondering what they should do.

"Masa, let go of Jinguji," Tokiya commanded quietly, but his words went unheeded. His attention remained focused on Ren, who glared at him with all the power he could muster. Ren forcefully kneed his friend in the gut, sending him reeling backward, but that was hardly the end of it. Jinguji dove forward and grabbed Masa by the front of his shirt, dragging him closer, as the rest of their group arrived, gasping in shock.

"What should we do?" Sakura cried, as Haruka uselessly pleaded for her friends to stop fighting, now.

Without a word, Ranmaru edged his way between the girls and strode forward. He seemed completely calm. He reached forward and snatched both young men by the back of their collars, forcibly dragging them apart. He shook the pair of them like puppies that had torn up his newspaper, his heterochromatic eyes narrowed in controlled fury.

"This is not the way idols settle our affairs," he growled, glaring at his rogue kouhai. The crowd watched with bated breath, the air having gone suddenly very cold.

Masa spit out a mouthful of blood, leaving the group to assume that Ren had, at some point, punched him in the jaw. Similarly, Ren was beginning to show the signs of a lovely black eye.

Ranmaru released the quarrelling pair, but remained between them, lest they should start again. Both were breathing heavily, but the raw rage was at last fading from their faces. Masa wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, while Ren adjusted his shirt.

"You bring shame and dishonor to yourselves and your friends," Ranmaru spat. "That sort of behavior has no place here. Behave, or get out."

Tears involuntarily filled Haruka's eyes as she watched the hate that burned in Ren's eyes. He was at the end of his rope.

"I've had it," he rasped, causing the entire hall's attention to shift to him. "I've had...enough...of whatever this is." His eyes were bloodshot, and his scratchy voice sounded as if he were a chain smoker. The smooth-talking prince of song had become a man of infinite torment, in the space of an hour.

"Oh, you're tired of it?" Masa demanded, his tone harsher than any had heard from him before. His hands were balled into fists, and he took obviously labored breaths.

"You are hardly in a position to have 'had enough' with anything," he snapped. "I suppose your massive ego doesn't bother you the way it does everyone else. No, you're perfectly happy to trample upon everything others think, or feel, so long as it doesn't bother you."

Everyone gasped in surprise. Masato wasn't the kind of person to go throwing accusations in public, this was a side of him none had ever seen before. They didn't quite know what to do about it. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

"Is that what you're so upset about?" Ren cried incredulously, staring at his friend as if he had grown two heads. "Are you really to the point of physical violence because of my ego?"

Masa nodded curtly. "It never occurred to you that I might have a breaking point, I see," he hissed.

"I certainly didn't think you'd get to it without once saying a word to me," Ren countered, crossing his arms over his chest. That black eye was darkening by the minute, but his stance had begun to resemble his usual cocky pose.

"Normally, Masa, when people have problems with one another, they attempt to use words before fists," Ren said pointedly.

"Because you've always heard every word I say," Masa said sarcastically. "I didn't feel the need to waste my breath just to be ignored again, if it's all the same to you."

Ren's eyes flashed, and he quickly turned his gaze to the floor.

"Is that really what you think of me?" he asked bitterly. "After all this time...Masa, how could you think such a thing?"

Almost as if there weren't enough energy for both of them at once, as Ren backed down, Masa really hit his stride.

"You've never given me any reason to think otherwise," Masato said coldly. "You spend all of your time with your distractions, your women and your modeling. You don't take anything seriously, least of all me. Or do I need to begin again by citing every instance over the past month where you've thrown me under the bus for your own sake?"

Everyone in the room was struck speechless, especially Ren. He reached behind him, searching for the sturdy wall at his back, feeling attacked from every angle.

"I apologize," he whispered, "-if the way I live my life is so offensive to you. I assure you, I do not spend my every waking hour thinking of ways to make you miserable." He angrily batted his hair out of his eyes, and trained his best death glare on Masato.

"The next time you have a problem with me," Ren said, his voice resonating in his chest with a rumble to rival Ranmaru's, "I would appreciate if you would say something more clearly to me before deciding to blacken my eye. I do have a reputation to uphold."

He and Masato held locked gazes for several silent minutes, before Masa gave up. He turned on his heel and, without a word, disappeared down the hallway toward the exit, away from everyone. Ren simply raked his hand through his hair, attempting to calm his rather worked-up attitude before it caused any more problems.

The next action was a complete surprise to almost everyone.


At the sound of her name, Kanna's eyes snapped up, and she met the level gaze of Maria, who had called her. Then, understanding, she nodded. Saying nothing, the martial artist took off down the hall after Masato.

Sakura opened her mouth as if to protest, but Maria just shook her head. She would explain later, if necessary. Everyone seemed somewhat baffled by the mostly silent exchange, but with the way the evening was going so far, no one had any better ideas.

Those who remained stared at Ren for a moment, until Reiji diplomatically attempted to diffuse the situation by offering to take everyone out for ice cream.

"It hardly seems like the time for it, I know," he said apologetically, "But attention will only make matters worse. I imagine we all need to cool off, and what better way than ice cream?"

Slowly, the group murmured their assent, though worried looks adorned every face.

"Poor Jinguji-san," Haruka murmured, her eyes brimming with tears. "And Hijirikawa-san too. I hope they can work things out."

A warm arm encircled her shoulders.

"Don't worry about them," Syo told her quietly. "Masa's stronger than he looks."

"He's right," Otoya chimed in, throwing his own arm around Sakura, who looked like she might burst into tears at any moment as well. "They'll be okay."

For all of their pretty words, Syo and Otoya locked eyes over the girls' heads, and knew instantly that neither of them was as confident as they sounded. There was a possibility that this was one problem no one would be able to solve.

"That was a hell of a beating you gave him."

Outside the arena, Kanna collapsed onto the grass beside Masato. He was staring at the sky, eyes focused intently on the stars. That made things easier, Kanna reasoned with herself. She wasn't planning on being the best person to understand Hijirikawa's point of view here, but if they both liked stargazing, that was something to start with.

Masa said nothing, only sighed and pointedly looked away from her. He was clearly uninterested in her help, or the help of anyone else for that matter. That was part of what had gone into Maria and Kanna's decision to send her after him. Kanna didn't much care if he wanted her input, he was going to get it anyway.

"He'll have that shiner for a while," Kanna continued, stretching out comfortably with her hands behind her head. "Director's not gonna like it, but it should be gone by showtime."

"He deserves it."

Masato's voice was a quiet whisper, but he sounded like he was still holding a lot if his rage captive in his heart. Kanna could hear it. He wasn't just bitter on the surface, this pain he was experiencing sounded like a pretty deep wound.

Kanna chuckled.

"Yeah, I bet he does. He strikes me as the kind of guy who doesn't know when he's in over his head and just keeps digging the hole deeper. Dense, you know?" She breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of the grass, and the smell of water in the air from a nearby fountain. She carefully blocked out the sounds of the people rushing by on the street, headed to shows, or bars, or whatever could capture their interest downtown at night.

"He really did look like he had no idea why you were pissed, though," Kanna said quietly. She wanted to prove a point, but there would be no helping her if she managed to anger Hijirikawa further. He was difficult enough to communicate with as it was.

"How could he not know?" Masato asked bitterly. It sounded like a rhetorical question, but Kanna answered anyway.

"Did you ever say anything to him?" she asked simply, rolling onto her side to face him. Masa's gaze remained firmly on the sky, but she knew he was listening. "I mean, he's known for a while that you were annoyed, but what was he going to do with just that?"

Masa didn't answer. Kanna knew then that part of the reason he was so angry was because he never said anything. It was a dilemma she was all too familiar with, which was why she was here.

Kanna flopped back onto her back, and tried to find some of her favorite constellations.

"He infuriating," Masato mumbled. "All he ever does is look for ways to make himself look better, at the expense of those around him. He doesn't think. He's rude, insulting, sometimes I wonder if he even knows the people around him are humans too. He just assumes that the entire world will go along with his egotistical fantasy."

"Including you," Kanna inferred.

"Including me," Masato confirmed.

That explained a lot more than it didn't. Obviously Masato didn't appreciate Ren's behavior, and the lack of change on Ren's part made him feel taken advantage of and unappreciated. There was only one thing missing- Masa had never said anything directly to Ren's face. He was such a conservative and reserved person, he probably made a few assumptions of his own and figured Ren would see his own mistake. But that didn't happen, and therein lay the conflict.

"I think you've got a better friend than you're giving him credit for," she said to Masa, her voice softer than usual. "But you can't expect him to be perfect without a little help. Everyone needs a little help sometimes."

At that, Masa snorted.

"Not Jinguji," he said, choking back his cynical laughter. "That idiot can command the attention of a room by flipping his hair, what on earth could he need me for."

Sighing, Kanna shrugged.

"Maybe so, but that doesn't mean he sees what's in it. People like him, they- we're loud and flashy by nature, because it's easier for us to talk than to see. Jinguji's action-oriented, but that makes him a lot blinder than he knows."

This time it was Masato's turn to roll over, staring at Kanna with one eyebrow raised in surprise.

"We?" he asked quietly.

Kanna nodded.

"Yeah. I guess I see where he's coming from," she said with a shrug. "We're a lot alike, me and him. Can't tell you how many times I've been on his side of this argument. Comes with the territory, when you get close to people like you, or like Maria with me."

She chuckled softly, remembering the many times she'd been in the doghouse with the ice queen over the last few years. Most of them were in the 'rude joke' department. Maria just didn't appreciate Kanna's humor, and Kanna couldn't for the life of her figure out why being funny was so offensive. These occurrences had lessened over time, but no one was perfect all the time. It had taken a while to convince Maria that Kanna really was as dumb as she sounded sometimes.

"People like you and Maria are so observant. You see so many things other people don't see. I guess that makes it hard to understand when people don't see what you do." Kanna grinned.

"In some ways," she said with a laugh, "It's like when couples get mad at each other. Like when girls think they're being really obvious, and it goes completely over a guy's head and they start talking about mixed's like that."

Masa pondered that thought. It was hard to imagine the infamous Jinguji Ren in such an embarrassing position, especially after the many times Masa he seen him land on his feet with women. While he had never considered himself among the flock of Ren's admirers, he gave him the credit he deserved for social skills. It was strange to think of Ren as being at a disadvantage in a matter of communication, which was usually his forte.

"I don't know if I believe you," he murmured thoughtfully, as he turned Kanna's theory over in his mind.

"Believe what ever you want," Kanna said with a lighthearted shrug. "If you want a more sensible explanation, try Maria. But she'll probably tell you the same thing I did." Her mouth twisted into a wry smile.

Silence ensued as Kanna stargazed and Masato pondered. He was still upset with Ren for being such a bully, and for not paying enough attention to realize when Masa was angry with him. He felt that they were close enough friends that this should have been more obvious. But if Kanna was right, and Ren really couldn't see it at all...well, it wouldn't be the first time Jinguji managed to catch Masa off-guard. It was hard to justify being angry with someone who didn't understand what they'd done wrong. Though at this rate, that fact might be the only thing keeping Ren from getting a second black eye to match the first. It was a Hail Mary pass, but Masa grudgingly took it.



"How long have you and Tachibana-san been friends?"

It was a question Kanna had expected.

"Since we joined the Flower Division. Three, maybe four years," she said, nonchalant. "Not too long, honestly. But I guess that's what happens when you meet someone special. It doesn't have to take long for you to really get to know and love them."

Masa blinked.

"Forgive my rudeness," he said very, very carefully, "But it sounds like more than a simple friendship to me."

To his surprise, Kanna let out a barking laugh. Her shoulder shook, as her face lit up. She didn't seem at all bothered by his prying inference. In fact, she sounded downright amused by it. It was the last response he had expected.

"You know, you're a smart guy," she said, playfully punching him in the shoulder. "Just don't go making it public record or anything, alright? I don't much care, but Maria's a pretty private person. If she thought I mentioned it to anyone outside the Flower Division, you can bet I'd sleep on the floor for a week."

Even the stoic Masato couldn't help but laugh softly at the idea of Maria kicking Kanna out of bed. Honestly, the idea of the two of them together was a bit funny all by itself. Maria was the Ice Queen, she hardly ever said what she really thought, and she was almost as difficult to entertain as Sumire. Kanna, in contrast, was loud and open, and wore her thoughts on her sleeve without holding anything back.

Masa wondered at what he had always considered an irony of casting, that they had chosen the two women to play the Gods of Ice and Fire in the show. It seemed more likely now that it was either a pointed jab at them, or merely typecasting.

While he knew that his relationship with Ren was strictly nonromantic, and therefore didn't mirror Kanna and Maria exactly, it was reassuring to know that the situation wasn't hopeless. For now, that would have to do, as he knew that Ren wouldn't want to speak to him any time soon. Certainly right now wasn't the best time to find him. Perhaps later, if they could find a moment to themselves...Masa had a better idea of what he might say now, at least.

Masa smiled.

"You are a very interesting person, Kirishima Kanna," he said quietly.

"I know," she replied with a yawn. "It's a blessing and a curse, really."

As they both chuckled softly, the knot that had uncomfortably settled in Kanna's chest worked itself loose. Now, when she went back to Maria, she would have something good to tell her at last.

The limos were quiet, but not silent. Everyone was being careful not to set Ren off again. He wasn't much of a hothead, usually, but with everything that had happened, no one wanted to be responsible for more injuries. So they let him be.

Ren stared out the window as they drove to Reiji's favorite ice cream parlor. He didn't voluntarily speak to anyone, but he had stopped shooting glares at people. Now he simply seemed numb, not reacting to anything around him. It was as if he were trying to make up for the quiet, serene Masa who usually accompanied them on these trips. Not the ridiculous anger management problem he had become.

He could feel their eyes on him, but dismissed it. It wasn't worth trying to convince them all that he was okay, when it was so painfully obvious that he was not. It wasn't worth pretending. Even the most social of butterflies had the occasional desire to be alone. Ren was fortunate that his friends respected him enough to let him have his space.

Part of him felt sad, that he was making them worry. Sakura and Haruka, in particular, were having to struggle not to check on him every five minutes. Otoya and Syo, bless them, had each become a combination of comforter and coping mechanism. They had persuaded the girls to start up a conversation with Reiji and Camus, who were more than happy to help.

They talked about what it was like, working with the famous Flower Division, and what progress they were making on The Sky Princess. Sakura, of course, extended every invitation to Quartet Night to come see the show. Reiji assured her that they would all be there, even if he had to drag Ranmaru.

Predictably, Ranmaru was curled up in his seat, staring angrily out the window with his arms folded over his chest. Frustration radiated from him in waves, and the girls were beginning to wonder if they needed to be worried about the former rock star too. Every now and then, Reiji would pause in his conversation to lay a hand gently on Ranmaru's knee. The first time, he violently tore away from Reiji's touch, but as it slowly became clear that the lighthearted young man wasn't going to stop, he gave up. Eventually his gaze softened a bit, leaving Reiji to smile to himself.

It must have been hard, Reiji imagined, for Ranmaru to deal with all of this. In the first place, he was still coming to terms with the fact that he even liked his kouhai, but to add keeping them from killing each other to his list was just unfortunate. It forced him to care about them, which made the silver-haired man very uncomfortable. He liked it much better when they could all pretend to be completely indifferent about one another and get on with their lives. All if this drama was not his style.

The second limo was equally subdued. Maria and Sumire were quiet as usual, and Ai had no interest in speaking to anyone either. Kohran normally would have been talkative, but she seemed preoccupied. She stared openly at Ai, her eyebrow occasionally twitching, but said nothing. Iris had fallen asleep between Ohgami and Natsuki, and they tried to be quiet to keep from waking her up while Cecil just hummed absentmindedly to himself.

"Is something wrong, Kohran?" Ohgami asked quizzically, keeping his voice low.

"No," she answered hesitantly. "Nothing's wrong, I just thought...maybe I'm seeing things."


The violet-haired mechanic just waved a dismissive hand.

"Nothing, don't worry about it," she said, banishing her suspicious thoughts from her mind. She turned her attention to a stray thread on her pants, but continued to steal occasional glances at Ai from beneath lowered lashes.

"We are almost there," Ai said suddenly. "0.5 miles."

Everyone stared at him, confused, but 0.5 miles later, the prospect of ice cream took precedence. Ohgami carefully gathered Iris in his arms, whispering to help her wake up. Natsuki was practically skipping, he was so happy, and no one was in the least bit surprised.

Ten minutes later, Ren surveyed his companions as they all filed through the line, getting their ice cream and settling down to eat. Some of the ice cream choices were very amusing-Sakura, for example, put gummy bears in her strawberry ice cream, and Natsuki added so many toppings it was impossible to tell what flavor he had started with.

Ever a fan of simplicity and class, Ren decided to stick with plain, unadorned butter pecan ice cream. He chose a seat far, far away from Otoya and Reiji, who were much too excited for Ren's taste, and went back to his brooding.

Everything was annoying here. The walls were painted some mint-green color that reminded him of a doctor's office. The smell of sugar was so thick in the air, Ren thought he might be sick. The ice cream in his hand held no real appeal for him, and he resented getting it, even if he had only really done so to reassure the girls. There was a little bell over the door that wouldn't stop tinkling, its frequency nothing short of offensive.

The sound of the chair legs scraping the floor as Sumire sat down across from him was even worse.

"The entire world of ice cream-related flirtation at your fingertips, and yet you scowl at the wall," she observed softly, a dish of what looked like raspberry sorbet in her hand. Her tone of voice was as snarky as usual, but her eyes didn't hold the spark they normally did.

"You and Hijirikawa-san must be very close, for something as small as that to make such an impact," she added thoughtfully. "I wouldn't have thought you had many friends of that caliber. He must not be intimidated, like everyone else."

Ren stiffened. He glanced up, staring into the depths of her eyes, unable to discern what she was thinking. His brows knit in concentration as he strove to keep his demeanor calm. His head was beginning to ache again. That just kept happening, didn't it.

"If you're just going to insult me as usual," he drawled, rubbing his temples, "I should at least point out that you are the last person on earth who should be giving me hell about my friends, as I'm not sure you actually have any."

His smooth façade was gone, vanished into the night with whatever dignity he had before Masa decided to make their little spat the business of the neighborhood. Now he had no desire to be polite or charming with anyone, not even Kanzaki Sumire.

Sumire blanched, surprised. She set down her dish and crossed her arms angrily across her chest.

"Well if you're going to act like a child, then I suppose I won't bother trying to help you!" she snapped. "After all, what does it matter to me if you throw away the closest friend you've got?" She sniffed haughtily. Her tone had not-so-mysteriously changed from "softspoken and understanding" to "screaming banshee" in zero point two seconds.

"Go right ahead!" she declared, pointing at him with her ice cream spoon. "Punch him in the face until the end of time for all I care! Just don't come crying to me when you're all alone and have no one to blame but yourself."

She adopted a scowl that matched Ren's, and turned sideways in her chair. She returned to eating her sorbet, making a point to stare at everyone but him. He had been obviously snubbed, and she wanted him to know it.

Ren didn't even know what to think, much less say. Honestly, he couldn't remember having ever spoken so harshly to a lady before, but he still hadn't expected Sumire to actually care. She had made it clear that she was an independent girl, who needed no one and lived above the opinions of others. None of the other girls seemed to be her particular friend, and she appeared to like it that way. Ren had taken Sumire's own trick of speaking hard truths and used it against her. But there was something more to it than that, it wasn't just her pride that was hurt.

He stared at her incredulously. Was it possible that Of course not. He couldn't possibly have managed to hurt...her feelings...surely not her...

A dark chuckle involuntarily escaped his lips. The whole affair was just so damn funny. All of that high and mighty talk about what a playboy he was, and how he paled in comparison to her luminous self, and she was publicly snubbing him. Who's the child now, he wanted to ask, but fortunately good common sense forbade it. Instead he simply laughed. His shoulders shook as he tried to stay quiet, to no avail.

Sumire shot him the most murderous look she could muster.

"What is so funny?" she asked icily.

Ren smiled darkly.

"Don't tell me you actually care, Miss Kanzaki," he said, his voice syrupy and sweet as he mocked her. "And here I thought such a sophisticated lady would never grace a mere playboy with her attentions."

Sumire's cheeks went instantly red.

"There's no need to sound so surprised," she said prissily. "I happen to be a good person, you know. Honestly, you make me out to be such a villain." Her arms unconsciously returned to their crossed position.

The mocking laughter slowly dwindled away, but only after Sumire had decided that she needed to pay very close attention to the floor.

"I hardly think you're a villain, Miss Kanzaki," Ren said, still chuckling.

She eyed him suspiciously.

Ren raised a hand in surrender.

"Truly, I don't," he assured her. He reached forward and snagged Sumire's hand, forcing her to turn and face him. She tried to tug away, but his grip was firm.

"I want to thank you," he said, all laughing aside. His eyes were serious. If it were possible for Sumire to blush any more, she did.

"What for?" she demanded, as her heart unnecessarily skipped a beat.

Ren winked, and brushed his lips across the back of her pale hand, before casually returning it to her. Sumire was forcibly reminded of the last time he had kissed her hand, when they had first met.

"I didn't think it was possible for me to laugh tonight," Ren said simply, shrugging as he leaned back in his seat and stretched out his legs under the table.

Her face the lovely shade of a tomato, Sumire stood up and took a few faltering steps back, away from him. Her eyes were still glued to the floor.

"W-well, I'm glad I could help," she said hastily. "Now if you'll excuse me." She turned on her heel and very quickly vanished.

Ren smiled after her.

"I guess the girls really do like a bad boy," he said to himself with a grin, making a mental note to get into fistfights more often.

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